A Letter to 2020 — from What Was, to What Is, to What If?*

In a strange twist of fate, one of my last adventures before the first lockdown was a quest through California — following the breadcrumbs to meet the Giant Sequoias of Miraposa Grove, the Coastal Redwoods surrounding the Bay Area, and the Joshua Trees in their namesake, Joshua Tree.

In hindsight, the trip was a prayer of sorts to a different kind of trinity. Witnessing history on the edge of time, with all three species diminished in the unprecedented wildfires over the summer. I only recently read some of the final statistics of loss**, which left me feeling an alphabet of emotions.

The Giant Sequoias, silent witnesses to the ages. Their c. 85 metre potential born in a cone wrapped seed; possessing an intelligence and resilience that enables survival in the same bathtub of soil for millennia.

The Coastal Redwoods, with a scent that stills the mind. Looking up to the buttressed ceiling of a redwood forest is like being in a medieval cathedral. Enclosed and vacuous at the same time.

And the Joshua Trees, breakdancing aliens on an intergalactic raving mission from Mars. Watching their shadows dance across the red dust at dusk; it’s extraordinary that life can flourish in a desert.

Given the ongoing changes to the climate, there is doubt as to whether the lost groves will be able to replenish. Some of the latest casualties in a long and growing list of species and ecosystems that are dying before their time.

This year, I have struggled to bear witness to the unravelling. To fully acknowledge the transition from what was, to what is. And to have the courage to walk across the bridge, to dare to dance with what if.

Trying to comprehend the reality of the scale of the challenge, I have flipped daily, sometimes hourly, between denial and overwhelm. With seemingly all of what is left on the line, the clock ticks. Getting caught up in the daily grind. Then grinding to a halt when a new piece of data smashes like a meteor on my senses. What is left of the Great Barrier Reef is unlikely to survive. And, repeat.

As the ball drops and 2021 lands, the Earth draws ever closer to the tipping points that could limit warming to 1.5°c (if this even remains possible) and significantly reign in the realms of the unknown, including untold loss of life in its many forms. The remaining carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°c is small and is being depleted quickly; it is estimated that less than 6 years remain at current rates of emissions alongside a requirement to halve overall emissions by 2030 in order to have a 66% chance of meeting the goal. Most days, limiting warming to 1.5°c seems fictional at best.

William Blake said that “as a man is, so he sees”. It seems perilous to fail to see what has been known, albeit remained invisible to many, for decades. It seems insane to refuse to see what is now visible, what is literally and figuratively on fire. So the question lingers.

What is man?

And what does it mean to be human?

William Blake also intuited that “nature is imagination itself”. To protect and allow the restoration of the natural world (and the human spirit, as an integral part of that web) would not only be a radical act of self-preservation, but potentially a re-engagement by humanity in the great dreaming of the consciousness of the planet Earth. A dreaming from which humanity was born, along with (and equal in rights to) millions of other forms of life.

The future will reveal which way the scales of justice tipped in 2020. In the meantime, at this juncture, I can only wonder.

What if, in facing the precipice, humans choose to consciously evolve to see themselves not as a dominant species at the top of a manufactured pyramid, but as imagining Earthlings rooted in service to a greater whole — a beating blue jewel travelling in widening circles through spiral time?

What if, another world is possible?

* See “From What Is to What If” by Rob Hopkins, for more What If inspiration.

** https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/09/climate/redwood-sequoia-tree-fire.html?referrer=masthead





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Thea Connolly

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